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The End is Nye

We’ve done that joke… anyway, a cheeky little sneak preview of my new novel about Mary Shelley – ARGUING WITH THE DEAD – out next year with Fledgling Press. And as if that’s not enough, I also have another children’s novel coming out too. I’ve been quietly writing away – because after all, that’s what writers do – in my castle (featured below) because after all, that’s where all writers live…while faithful little Louis gazes at me mournfully.

As Mary Shelley sorts through the snowstorm of her husband’s scattered papers – for which she will be paid the handsome sum of £500 – a blizzard rages outside. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley’s drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a half-ruined villa in Italy while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley? Who will Harriet come for next?

For those who loved FOR MY SINS, I’m hoping you will love this too. Once again, I’ve delved into the mind of a Mary (perhaps I’m doing all the Marys) but this Mary – as I’m sure you don’t need telling – wrote FRANKENSTEIN when she was 19. She was vilified and ostracized by the society she lived in at the time, for writing it. How could something so foul and disgusting emerge from the pen (and the mind) of a young girl? But she identified very closely with the Creature, who cries out in her novel “Misery made me a fiend!” The Creature is rejected by his Creator, Dr.Frankenstein, and Mary was no stranger to feelings of rejection. I have loved writing and researching it. Some of the novel is set in Scotland, where Mary was sent when she was 14 to get out from under the feet of her stepmother. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have loved writing it. In fact, I hope you buy it because if you don’t, writers like me cannot afford to heat the many rooms of my castle (featured below), and I starve… and so does my dog, Louis, who still hasn’t had a walk this morning… (Disclaimer: I don’t live in a castle. That castle below belongs to someone else… I can’t remember his name…)

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A Gallery of Recent Events

I’ve had a run of exciting events recently, including chairing A.L. Kennedy, Michael Morpurgo and Barroux the Illustrator at the EIBF, also Holly Bourne and Cat Clarke at the same, so decided I should update my tired old website to reflect this. Also included are pics of a recent event I did with Sara Sheridan at the Portobello Book Festival called NO PLACE FOR A WOMAN in which we talked about feminism and historical fiction in our books. Sara’s The Ice Maiden (published by Severn House) is set in Victorian times in the Antarctic, where – as you can imagine – women did not fare any better than in Mary Stuart’s day, as described in FOR MY SINS. The event was beautifully chaired by Sheila Averbach, which led to some really interesting discussion. I learned a lot. Did you know Robert Louis Stevenson had a sister novelist who sold more books than her brother, but who was promptly forgotten? Why? Because so often there is NO PLACE FOR A WOMAN, of course.

 

 

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is such a good book. A real classic. When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I read loads of classics before I got on to reading any modern contemporary novelists, and this novel is as satisfying as a fat George Eliot or a Jane Austen, or a labyrinthine Thomas Hardy – although different, because modern. It’s set in the Second World War, and what makes this book so engaging are the two main protagonists, whom we meet when they are children, caught up in the engines of war. Werner is a gifted orphan, brilliant with radios, who lives in an orphanage with his little sister after their father went to work in the mines one day and never came home. He longs to be a scientist rather than labour away in the mines like his father. His gift for fixing radios brings him to the attention of the Hitler Youth. Marie-Laure, blind since the age of 6, lives in Paris with her father, who works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. The museum is Marie-Laure’s childhood and her education, but when the Nazis invade, they have to flee, in possession of an invaluable diamond. They hope it is one of the replicas to put the Nazis off the scent, but could it be the real one? We see the world through Marie-Laure’s “eyes”. Sounds, smells, touch and taste build up a kaleidoscopic universe full of remembered and imagined colours. These two children, caught up by war, are so engaging, and the whole narrative really explores the injustices which are always at the heart of life, both in war and peacetime. It’s a novel about humanity and hope, the little people against the inescapable machine of war – what it does to people’s lives, how it is in the little things that they try to exercise control. Werner is an incredibly gifted child, and one of his fellow soldiers says affectionately “What you could have been…” It is also about the importance and the power of radio, beautifully described. Werner and his little sister in their orphanage hear broadcasts from a Frenchman who speaks to his listeners about the beauties of the natural world, he educates, inspires and informs, and they have no idea where his voice comes from until foreign radio is banned in Nazi Germany, and Werner is forced to destroy the radio set he has lovingly repaired. Anyway, a great read. One of those books that will stay with me…

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Upcoming Events

I have a few events coming up. If you are out and about near Killin on Wednesday 16th May, I’ll be talking about FOR MY SINS, my historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots at Killin Library at 7.30 pm as part of Off The Page Festival. Exactly who did murder Darnley? Do I know? Do any of us know?

Out and about in Glasgow on Thursday 17th May? I’ll be at the Mitchell Library as part of TheWeeWrite festival (baby sister to Glasgow’s AyeWrite), talking to young people about CHILL, SHIVER and DARKER ENDS, about the Jacobites, the massacre of Glencoe, and ghost stories with atmospheric sounds and images. Slip in at the back, and I promise I won’t pick on you to ask a question. Appearing here twice at Mitchell Library, Glasgow, 10 am, and then again at 1 pm, same venue.

If you are anywhere near Dunbar Library on Saturday 19th May at 1 pm, I’m very excited to be appearing at Coastword Festival, talking about CHILL, SHIVER and DARKER ENDS.

Also, if you are about in Edinburgh on Thursday 31st May, I’ll be at Noir At the Bar in Edinburgh. Noir at the Bar tours the country, and brings together crime writers (and wild cards) for a relaxed event of chat and discussion. 7.30 pm, venue to be confirmed. Delighted to be part of this exciting line up, which includes Neil Broadfoot, JV Baptie, Tana Collins, Olga Wojtas, Kaite Smith-Welsh, Mark Leggatt, Helen Grant, Lesley Kelly, Kevin Scott & Jónína Leósdóttir from Iceland.

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Aye Write!: Glasgow’s Book Festival

If you are out and about in Glasgow on 25th March

Come to Aye Write! Glasgow’s Book Festival. 

Anne O’Brien and I will be sharing a platform as the Queens of Historical Fiction.  Our guests will of course be Mary Queen of Scots and Joan Fair Maid of Kent.

Looking forward to being there and seeing you.

Information and tickets here:

https://www.ayewrite.com/Pages/Whats-On.aspx#/events

01-for-my-sins-20mm-spineThe Queens of Historical Fiction

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The Value of Quietness

 

Disappearing into the hills

disappearing into the hills

 

Landscape has always been very important to me. As a child living in a remote Norfolk village (with no motorway in the entire county, no trains or buses from our village) I learnt to be pretty self-sufficient. I developed the habit of walking the dog for miles while reflecting on books I was reading, or working on an ongoing inner narrative that might one day find its way onto the page.

 

Crisp views of Scotland

crisp heights

 

It’s strange to me that I’m still doing that nowadays, but in a different landscape entirely. Instead of the flat marshes and misty fenland with its endless mudflats, I have the crisp clear heights of Scotland, but I’m still walking the dog (a different dog!!!), and I’m still working on that inner-narrative, some of which makes its way onto the page.

 

A light powdering of snow

red coat

 

When I was a teenager, I hoped to be a novelist one day. It was my dream. Now I write novels for a living, but the reality is different to what I imagined it. When I was a young hopeful, I wrote to Anita Brookner telling her of my ambition, and she wrote back saying “A writer’s life is full of disappointments.” She had won prizes, published novels, had reviews in all the major newspapers and magazines. I didn’t know what she meant.  Now I do… But the one thing which hasn’t changed, and which remains a constant is this deep abiding love I have for landscape, and for this landscape in particular… Scotland.

 

Kenmore mountains

Mountain ridges

 

Every day I walk, and every day I find inspiration and beauty, no matter what the weather. A neighbour said to me this morning “Another lovely day!” He was being sarcastic, of course, because the light powdery snow had turned into a fine mist of rain, but I felt all elated and ecstatic after having taken photos of the sky and clouds… and I was looking forward to getting back to my desk.

 

Look up at the skies above sometimes

cloudscape

 

I often have a moan about social media, but taking photos can focus the eye, make you notice details, and is a modern way of cataloguing, collecting and recording our own thoughts. What the camera cannot do, however, is capture the smell of peaty water flavoured with minerals and moss, and nothing beats the sound of trickling water coursing its way down the mountain paths, slowly shifting gravel, grain by grain, to carve a landscape. We need narrative for that… books, literature, prose.

 

Boat houses on the loch

boathouses 

 

In Norfolk as a child I was surrounded by slow fenland waters, and the sea. Here in Scotland the rumble and cascade of water is everywhere, but it’s different. It’s restless, powerful, scouring lanes through the rocks. But it was this landscape I first wrote about, and the one which gave me consolation. When I was a teenager, my family used to say “One day, you’ll take off with your typewriter up to the moors in Derbyshire or Yorkshire and find your own Wuthering Heights.” Well, it was a laptop in the end, (as well as a posh pen and a posh notebook,) and my Wuthering Heights lay waiting for me in Scotland.

 

special place

Martha and Louie – special place

 

The sigh of the wind in the treetops and the glint of a pale winter sun through pencil-thin trees are the kind of things I try to capture in my writing. For me, it’s like painting a picture – with words. It’s what makes me tick. If I come across a fallen tree in the woods, I try to imagine what it sounded like when there was no one there to hear it falling – the rending of boughs in the silence. But I never feel that I quite capture what I’m after. I never feel satisfied… as if there is one more novel, one piece of prose that will reach the standard I’m after.

 

Snow

Snowlight

 

I suppose in an age when the world is after a quick sell, I’m a bit of a conundrum. But I don’t care. I’m a philosopher always in need of a place of quietness, and I find it… right here, under my nose.

 

Woodland winter walks

Touch of bronze

 

I value this quietness.

 

 

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Previously… Scotland’s History Festival

As part of Scotland’s History Festival, I shall be doing an event at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Edinburgh on Sat 25th November at 4pm-6pm, talking about Mary Queen of Scots and historical fiction writing in “A Historical Showcase.”  

Previously... is an “ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF OUR NATION’S LONGEST RUNNING DRAMA… OUR STORY. IT’S THE STORY SO FAR…”

It runs from 17 November – 26 November 2017 in Edinburgh, and includes a whole package of exciting and varied events: greedy queens, Culloden, crime, runaway slaves in Britain, the history of department stores, featuring speakers like Prof Tom Devine and Alex Salmond…

If you are free on Saturday 25th November, I’d love to see you there, at Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge in Edinburgh… around tea-time…